Doc’s Memoirs: Mutt and Jeff kept life interesting for country veterinarian

D E Larsen DVM

Here they come, I could see them walking over from Safeway.

My memory fails me to remember their names likely because of the nicknames I’d attached to them. I only used those names privately, mostly between my wife Sandy and myself. But they fit the roles perfectly.

I think I probably reversed the names from the cartoon classics. I called the short one Mutt and the tall one Jeff.

Mutt was shorter than I, maybe 5 feet 4 inches. He was stocky, and he had the face of a prizefighter, or perhaps a barroom brawler. His nose was squashed flat, and the deep wrinkles told of a rough life.

Jeff, on the other hand, was tall and sort of thin, with a bit of a beer belly. Jeff did most of the talking.

They were frequent visitors, mostly just after free information. But they would bring their dog in to visit a couple of times a year.

I freely gave advice and instruction to established clients. I felt that education was part of my responsibility to my clients. Most respected this, and almost nobody abused my generosity. In those early years, I only sent a bill for consultation on a couple of occasions. Both of those small fees resulted in loud screams, but they served the desired purpose.

Jeff pushed through the door with Mutt right on his heels.

“Good morning, Doc,” Jeff said. Mutt nodded a greeting.

“Good morning,” I replied. “What brings you in today?”

“We have gone in partners and bought a steer,” Jeff said. “We got an outstanding deal, and he is a nice steer. We are planning to save a lot of money on meat when we butcher him.”

“You will probably do well if you take advantage of the spring and early summer grass and feed him a little grain, also,” I said. “If he gains well, butchering him in the fall will save on buying a lot of winter feed.”

“He has a little problem this morning, and we are pretty worried about him,” Jeff continued.

“He’s drooling slobber all over the place,” Mutt chimed in.

“Yes, and he is not eating, holding his head funny, sort of extended,” Jeff said. “I think he might be bloated, but Mutt here doesn’t think that is the problem.”

“Well, I can’t tell you what his problem is without looking at him,” I said. “But it sounds like he is choked. Do you have an apple tree around?”

“Yes, we have him in Mutt’s sister’s orchard,” Jeff said. “There are apple and pear trees everywhere.”

“Maybe I should come out and get a look at him,” I suggested.

“If it is just an apple, maybe we can get it out. I think we will try that first,” Jeff said as they turned and headed out the door.

Just as the door was closing, Jeff leaned back in, adding, “Thanks, Doc.”

“Give them an hour, and they will be back,” I told Sandy. “You better mark me off for a farm call in the afternoon.”

“They never call; they must not have a phone,” Sandy said.

Sure enough, in less than an hour they were back at the clinic, pulling up to the front in their old pickup this time.

Jeff was talking even before he got through the door, a little excited now.

“Mutt thinks you need to come to look at this guy right away,” Jeff said.

“I think he is bloating,” Mutt added. “And we don’t want to lose him now.”

“OK, I will come now and eat a late lunch,” I said. “Where do you have him?”

“You can follow us,” Jeff suggested. “It is almost to the top of the hill on Turbyne.”

As I headed out to the truck, I paused to grab a wire coat hanger from the coat rack. Jeff sort of looked at that a little funny but did not say anything.

The trip up the hill only took a few minutes, and we pulled in a driveway that led to a level spot where the orchard was located. The steer was tied to the corner of a small shed in the middle of the orchard.

It only took me a couple of minutes to ascertain that the steer was indeed choked. There were apples on the ground everywhere. Most were small.

“How are you going to get the apple, Doc?” Jeff asked. “Mutt wants to know.”

“This one is going to be easy,” I said. “It is just in the back of his throat. They are more difficult and even life-threatening if they are stuck in his esophagus, in his chest.”

“Do you think you can get this one?” Jeff asked, anxiously.

I went to the truck and retrieved the wire coat hanger and my nose tongs. Stepping on the coat hanger, I stretched it out, leaving a bend in the middle about the size of the toe of my boot.

After securing the steer’s head with the nose tongs, I slid the bent end of the coat hanger down the roof of his mouth. I could feel the loop slip over the apple. One quick jerk on the hanger and the apple popped into the steer’s mouth. A loud belch of rumen gas followed the apple.

He would be fine, but I looped it one more time and pulled the apple out of his mouth.

“He will be fine,” I said. “But I would pick up these apples or at least cut them into pieces. You don’t want to have me up here again.”

“That looked pretty simple,” Jeff said.

“Everything is simple when you know what you are doing,” I replied.

We didn’t see the pair again until an early morning in October. They pushed through the door, and Jeff put both elbows on the counter.

“How much do you charge to neuter a tomcat?” he asked.

“By the time we vaccinate, deworm, and neuter him, it runs about $40,” Sandy told him.

“That’s a lot of money for a tomcat,” Mutt said. “Maybe we should do it ourselves like my grandfather used to do.”

Jeff looked at Mutt for a full minute. “You really think we can do that on him?” he queried.

“OK,” he decided, “We are going to do it ourselves.” And they turned and were gone in a flash.

Sandy came back to the treatment area and related the story to me.

“They will be back in a couple of hours, probably with the cat,” I said.

Sure enough, in the early afternoon, their old pickup pulled up to the front of the clinic. They were struggling to get a large box out of the cab.

I came up and stood behind the counter. I didn’t want to miss this story.

“We are just going to leave this cat here, Doc,” Jeff said, almost out of breath.

“You just take care of him, and we will be back in a day or two to pick him up,” Mutt said.

“Yes, we tried to neuter him,” Jeff started. “Mutt here figured he would do the cutting, and I would do the holding because I was taller. So I sat in a chair and clamped this guy between my thighs. I have ahold of the back of his neck and his tail. I am holding him real tight. Then Mutt, here, takes his pocketknife that he had just sharpened, and grabs the nuts of this cat.”

“Doc, I am telling you, it started as a low rumble, then it just sort of exploded. I am telling you, Doc, for a couple of minutes there, I didn’t know who was going to get neutered. This cat damn near ruined me.”

“Jeff, you go take care of yourself,” I said. “You might want to see a doctor if you have bite wounds. We will take care of the cat until you get back to pick him up.”